Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 18th Jan 2014 20:00 UTC
Google

To be sure, it's no magic solution to the gargantuan task of moving the entire Android ecosystem forward. And the update situation for non-flagship devices remains something of a crapshoot. But it's a start, and a big step in the right direction. And as we move from Jelly Bean into the KitKat era, it's enough to give us some hope for the future of Android updates.

Read on to find out why.

Still Android's biggest weakness. Baby steps are made, but a solution there is not.

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This shouldn't be a problem
by BenGildenstein on Sat 18th Jan 2014 20:36 UTC
BenGildenstein
Member since:
2013-09-20

A solution is reasonably obvious (though not necessarily straight forward), and has existed for decades: Modularization.

There are many aspects of the Android system (including the core OS APIs) that should exist in "userland" and can be made 100% modular and securely update-able through the play store service. The same can be said for kernel-modules that are direct-from-the-OEM.

Now Google may desire to withhold updates until they pass very rigorous automated tests to determine proper functioning, and have fallbacks if (for some reason) an update is still breaking a users system (ie. revert to last working state).

Further more, it would be possible to open a "Beta" branch of the OS if secrecy isn't too large of a concern. People like me would GLADLY forgo a bit (or a lot) of stability to be on the cutting edge and report bugs early before it hitting the stable branch. Bug reporting can be automated as part of the terms.

This may not apply to all code, but things like a UI library, or image/video codec support clearly do not need to ship exclusively as firmware. As long as the interfaces comply to a very tightly defined specification, I would expect that the vast majority of system-critical code can exist outside of an OS update.

This will not apply to all devices where proprietary drivers may be the limiting factor for functionality. But many of the features of Android (at least those that consumers often care about most -- eg. a new camera app interface, new launcher fonts, and transparent nav bars) are not dependant on these drivers. And the OS is largely platform agnostic which should make many of these features trivial.

Android should be rolling out updates to the latest version in days and not years.

I suspect that the idea of automated updates are not attractive to OEMs, which are Google's customers in that they ultimately buy Android licences. I should state that this is purely speculation, and is not based on any evidence.

Edited 2014-01-18 20:39 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: This shouldn't be a problem
by moondevil on Sat 18th Jan 2014 23:33 in reply to "This shouldn't be a problem"
moondevil Member since:
2005-07-08

Android is pretty modular, the problem is called diferentiation.

OEMs want to make their offering feel distinct, as they have been doing since the dawn of computing.

Carriers prefer to offer you a new handset against a contract renewal than free OS updates.

Any other OS will suffer from the same issues. Carriers won't let anyone else play an Apple move on them.

Reply Parent Score: 4

tidux Member since:
2011-08-13

Push an OTA update that leaves /system mounted read/write and that problem solves itself.

Reply Parent Score: 2

Luminair Member since:
2007-03-30

It's a good point that companies don't care if your phone gets updated, as long as you keep buying cell phone service and new phones.

Reply Parent Score: 6

BenGildenstein Member since:
2013-09-20

Android is pretty modular, the problem is called diferentiation.

OEMs want to make their offering feel distinct, as they have been doing since the dawn of computing.

Carriers prefer to offer you a new handset against a contract renewal than free OS updates.

Any other OS will suffer from the same issues. Carriers won't let anyone else play an Apple move on them.


I disagree..

Simply put, the idea that carrier/OEM differentiation prevents updating ignores that Google states the terms of what can and cannot be done in the terms of an Android license with Play services. They would only have to state that certain libraries/modules would have to remain untouchable (just like Play applications). It's entirely possible to have a skinnable UI, custom applications/launchers, custom backgrounded services, unique windowing display system, and device specific kernel modules/drivers and STILL allow the core OS to be updated modularly directly from Google.

In short, there's no good reason why an Android device cannot be significantly differentiated (in all of the ways that matter: look, feel, function), and still get fast updates. It simply comes down to the design of the system.

The problem of carrier differentiation is, in the larger scheme, a trivial problem.

And planned obsolescence is still entirely possible, with a timed support window (eg. 2 years) at which time a device will no longer be eligible for updates.

Reply Parent Score: 2

hobgoblin Member since:
2005-07-06

Anyone that came into contact with the Nokia Maemo project learned to loath the word differentiation.

It is what lead to various binary blobs being in charge of power management, and so making it virtually impossible for the community to maintain and upgrade the software.

Reply Parent Score: 2